During the course of helping clients execute their projects, I observed a common theme across industries. There was a disproportionate amount of project leaders who were strong “drivers” and were “making things happen”. However, beneath the surface revealed teams that became dependent on having such drivers in place.
So I went and re-read Steve Yegge’s landmark article on “good agile, bad agile”. He talked about emergent properties versus the whip. In most organizations, CEOs put “whips” in place to drive projects to completion.
How do you know, if you are in a similar organization? Here is a simple formula:
Take the number of meetings you have every week and multiply it by the number of written status reports you have to provide. If the number exceeds 5, you are probably in an organization that has multiple layers of “whips”.
Ask yourself the question: if no one were to tell me, would I have a clue about what I needed to do for the next 3 months? If you are having trouble coming up with the answer – you are probably in an organization which has not worked on creating emergent properties.
Now surely, there could be a healthier way to promote self-organizing teams. Are we inherently flawed such that in absence of strong direction and push, we are simply incapable of reaching a goal? As teams within organizations, have we just accepted the fact that instead of strong team players with single minded vision, we need to rely more on strong drivers who can push people to get things done?
Ricardo Semler set something in motion at his company. Google believes in emergent properties and incentivizing teams towards self-driven launch goals. Southwest Airlines practices what they call “warrior spirit yet servant’s heart” . But such companies stand out among hordes of other companies. These are companies that are not only ahead of their competition in terms of the best workplaces, but also outperform others in the long term.
Recently, at a conference, I had a chance to interview ReadyTalk co-founder Scott King. ReadyTalk was recently chosen as one of the best places to work in Colorado. According to Scott, their main goal is to be a great place to work at, rather than be the largest company in their chose market space. They intentionally avoid external investor pressure and work hard on their organizational culture as they firmly believe that employee satisfaction reflects directly on a company’s bottom line.
In conclusion, look for signs of a “whip” on your team, don’t panic. Understand the motivations and work with your team on being self-propelled towards a common goal.